The once-endangered Italian wolf has made a remarkable recovery and has come down from the central Italian mountains to be spotted on the outskirts of Florence, park officials said on Tuesday.
Wardens in the national park overlapping the regions of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna have been monitoring the movements of wolves for the past few winters and have found that there are at last five or six wolf packs in the park.
"Since 2005, this animal has been present not only in the mountains but also in the foothills and even around the city (Florence)," a park official said.
Evidence that the wolves have come closer to populated areas, the official added, "include attacks on livestock as well as the discovery of wolf carcasses, victims of poachers".
The park's report on the wolf population in Italy was presented at the ongoing 'Wolf Week' conference in Cervarezza Terme, near Reggio Emilia, which opened on Monday and runs through Saturday.
The high point of the conference will be a seminar on the protection of the Italian wolf, also known in English as lupo, organized in collaboration with Rome's La Sapienza University.
The lupo is a subspecies of the Grey Wolf and despite its comeback it remains a threatened and protected species.
DNA tests on the lupo along with other European wolves and wild dogs have shown that the Italian wolf is the purest. It has bred least bred leastwith wild dogs.
The lupo is now present all along Italy's central Apennine mountain chain as well as parts of the French and Swiss Alps.
Wolves were widespread in Italy until the 20th century, when they were nearly wiped out. The wolf population hit an all-time low in the early 1970s, when perhaps as few as 100 animals remained.
Efforts to revive the wolf population began in the mid-1970s and in ten years the population more than doubled. It has continued to increase at an average annual rate of 7%.
EDUCATION TO AS A TOOL TO PROTECT WOLVES.
Education is also being used to protect wolves and a wolf museum was created last year to inform people on the true nature of the animal and dispel popular myths.
The museum is located in the rugged Grand Sasso national park in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, home to dozens of wolves.
The whole point, park officials say, is to make people realise that wolves are "a precious presence" in Italian forests, a sign among other things that the eco-system is in good health.
Helpful information panels inform visitors that wolves are extremely intelligent animals with a great ability to adapt to circumstances and work out solutions to problems.
Visitors also learn about the "persecution" that wolves have suffered in Europe over the centuries and the formulation in recent years of laws protecting them.